Monday, March 12, 2007


2925 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60657

Adam’s face says it all: this was a disappointing meal.

Eye of a scholar, mind of a skeptic

Erwin was the only spot mentioned in Time Out Chicago’s list that I’d never heard of or seen mentioned on LTHForum, and out of nowhere, it walks away with the top spot in the “Classic” category? What? This was going to be either (a) the discovery of the most slept-on restaurant in Chicago, or (b) a manifestation of some questionable criteria employed by the TOC staff. It turned out that we were dealing with the latter, but we wouldn't know that until it was too late.

Erwin is a weird spot. It’s on Halsted just north of Diversey, which puts it not-really-near anything, and it’s kind of hidden by the two buildings on either side—it’s very easy to miss. There’s a long handicapped-access ramp that runs the length of the building. The booths and tables are dark wood, and the walls are decorated with a weird pastiche of folksy murals and disconcertingly high wainscoting. A huge pail of butterscotch candies obscures the hostess. The bathroom has Erwin-branded hand lotion…I could go on all day like this, but it seems disingenuous to clown a Lakeview brunch restaurant for looking like an L.L. Bean when That's-A-Burger lost no points for lacking chairs, tables, or even a ledge.

It’s just listed on the menu as “hamburger” (lowercase), and it costs “12”.

You are offered the opportunity to add bleu cheese or cheddar; I had the bleu, and Adam passed on any cheese. After what seemed like an unusually long time (forgot my watch, I’m going to guess 25 minutes), our burgers arrived.

This burger is deceptively photogenic.

Visually, you’re presented with a kind of baby brother to the Rosebud burger (a TOC and Nat and Adam favorite), right down to the ovular platter and individual dollops of condiments. Tastewise, you’ve got a much inferior product. My first impression was “points for execution, no points for ambition,” but as the meal went on, I became further and further underwhelmed. I can’t quite put my finger on what was lacking, but there was just nothing noteworthy going on here: very standard Kaiser-ish bun, toppings of average quality, eminently forgettable fries.
The meat, while juicy to the point of messy, was underseasoned, too lean, or both. Bleh.

I probably wouldn’t have noticed or cared if Erwin had been, like, the restaurant attached to my hotel or something, but again, this was supposed to be a superlative sandwich, and we both felt like we’d wasted a meal. Disappointment eventually turned towards incredulousness, to the point where Adam actually had to check with the waiter to make sure that this was indeed the restaurant mentioned by Time Out and not some other Erwin, or an alternate, more-crappy burger.

All this being said, if the burger wasn’t $12 (which is a nickel more than the Rosebud’s, FYI), I’d let this go, because there’s really nothing about Erwin that suggests that it’s ever been gunning for first-place anything, ever. If I lived over there, I might stop in again…but I really doubt I’d ever have the burger again. Life’s too short.

[Note: Adam sent me the TOC review:
When’s the last time you wanted to sit and smell a burger more than you wanted to bite into it? That’s the reaction we had to this beauty, which is seasoned with garlic and a peppery chile sauce, topped with savory white cheddar and cooked over a wood-burning grill that imparts an incredible dose of smokiness.
Something weird's going on here: if that burger was seasoned with garlic, I couldn't tell, and there definitely wasn't any "peppery chile sauce" to be found.]


Unknown said...

Somewhere, someplace, Erwin's promo material mentions chile sauce. Long ago I heard they used minced kimchee, which brought me there within a week. Truth of the matter is they use, maybe, a minuscule amount of sriracha, there is no apparent heat. For my taste the meat is too finely ground, this is an ok, at best, burger. Good luck with your project.
G Wiv

NG said...

Thanks for adding that, Gary; I never would have guessed.

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